A new medical study shows the new University of Chicago hospital trauma center is reducing racial disparities in the city.
The findings assess the impact of the new, high-level adult trauma center, which the university opened last year on its South Side medical campus.
Researchers found that, prior to the trauma center’s opening, 73 percent of black neighborhoods in the city were located in “trauma deserts.” Those are areas more than five miles away from high-level trauma centers that offer advanced emergency medical care. That figure is now down to 31 percent, according to the study, which was published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open.
“I hope that the data will speak to the fact that we need to make sure we keep this trauma center because it’s doing a lot of good in terms of racial equity and providing essential care for our patients,” said Dr. Elizabeth Tung, one of the study’s authors and a physician at the university hospital.
High-level trauma centers treat the most acute wounds such as those suffered from gunshots, stabbings and car accidents. The centers feature a costly, complex web of care with specially trained surgeons and nurses who treat penetrating wounds. Trauma care must be approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Last May, the University of Chicago opened the new center after a long-protracted fight with local activists who repeatedly noted wide disparities in trauma care between the city’s majority-black communities on the South Side and communities in other parts of the city.
A public health study from 2013 found Chicago-area gunshot victims who are shot more than five miles away from a trauma center have a higher mortality rate. For decades, until the new center opened, the nearest high-level adult trauma centers were located several miles away near downtown, on the near West Side or in southwest suburban Oak Lawn.
In the study released Friday, researchers noted the dramatic decline in racial disparities since the new trauma center opened. Residents in black communities witnessed a sevenfold reduction in the odds of being farther away from trauma care than people living in the city’s majority-white census tracts.
Tung’s study looked at Los Angeles and New York City, too. The team found 89 percent of African-American communities in Los Angeles were located in “trauma deserts,” compared with 14 percent in New York City.
Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @natalieymoore.